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Windsor-Smith, Barry

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1949-    ) UK Comics writer and illustrator, artist, publisher and author of graphic novels, active from around 1967, mostly in USA from 1971; for some time he worked under his birth name, Barry Smith, and became well-known under that name for various assignments with Marvel Comics, including adaptations of Conan the Conqueror tales and other works by Robert E Howard. His often-interrupted career in comics was marked from the first by a campaign against the invidious work-for-hire contracts insisted upon by the industry during these years. As an illustrator, he soon widely noted for his control over kinetic action (mandatory at this time), and for his tellingly dramaturgic use of cinema-like shooting angles, with an application of deep focus and point-of-view rotations and chiaroscuro-heavy close-ups to focus an expressive control over the conflicted protagonists he specialized in; more generally, his work soon became recognizable for his potent cross-hatched rendering of the underlife of the world. The early influence of artists like Jack Kirby and Jim Steranko was manifest, but their fingerprints became absorbed into his own mature style. By the early 1980s, adding his mother's maiden name, he had become Windsor-Smith. Of various published works [not listed below], his Anthology series Barry Windsor-Smith: Storyteller (1996) contains several sf tales of interest, including "Young GODS"; much of this work is usefully assembled or re-assembled in BWSOpus (graph coll 1999-2000 2vols).

Windsor-Smith may be of greatest interest for Monsters (graph 2021), an ambitious book-length Graphic Novel set in a 1940s and 1960s America sufficiently distorted from the consensual world almost to constitute an Alternate History whose Jonbar Point is the American military's acquiring a Nazi Invention as World War Two ends: a chemicals-based programme known as Prometheus, along with the Mad Scientist who had developed it. The complex tale alternates between the mid-1960s, when a young soldier named Bobby Bailey is recruited into the ongoing secret project and is chemically transmogrified into a grotesque cancer-ridden Monster (mercilessly travestying the origin story of Captain America), and the late 1940s, when as a young boy he is disfigured by his ex-soldier father, fresh from Germany where he had been maddened – made into a psychic monster – through his exposure to Drugs employed by the Prometheus scientists. A Black sergeant who has enabled Bobby's 1960s recruitment, haunted by guilt and premonitions of Disaster, attempts to rescue the young man. It is too late, Bobby has become not a Captain America-style Hero but a pathos-ridden Parody both of Marvel Comics's The Incredible Hulk (who first appeared in the early 1960s, and for which Windsor-Smith had written a treatment in 1984) the slightly later Marvel comic Weapon X (for which he wrote "Weapon X" in Marvel Comics Presents #72-84 1991). Both the sergeant and the "monster" are killed. In a narratively prefigured epilogue, the sergeant's daughter – whose powers of Precognition and whose ability to see and converse with the dead evoke M Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense (1999) – "rescues" them, and the ghosts of other members of the Bailey family, all of whom had been savagely murdered decades earlier in the course of a tale whose tragic melodramatic intensity conveys a sense that American history is being portrayed here. Her transporting them into a kind of posthumous Zone, where they are healed of their mortal wounds, is presented without qualifications.

Although Windsor-Smith makes no explicit connection with the Bailey family whose exemplary ordeals are ornately unpacked in the fantasy/horror film It's a Wonderful Life (1946) directed by Frank Capra, the mise en scene of that film – heartland America over a decade ending in 1946 – registers (if without any direct intention) multiplexly here. David Thomson's Suspects (1985), which takes the Bailey family as central to a fantasticated vision of America in darkening times, also contributes to this portrait of the roots of the world America was becoming. [JC]

Barry Windsor-Smith

born London: 25 May 1949

works (highly selected)

  • Monsters (Seattle, Washington: Fantagraphics/London: Jonathan Cape, 2021) [graph: illus/hb/Barry Windsor-Smith]

collections

  • BWSOpus Volume One (Seattle, Washington: Fantagraphics, 1999) [coll: graph: pb/]
  • BWSOpus Volume Two (Seattle, Washington: Fantagraphics, 2000) [coll: graph: pb/]

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